The results of a new study linking hydraulic fracturing or fracking to induced earthquakes in B.C. and Alberta is reason to immediately halt the controversial extraction technique from being used in gas fields in B.C. according to Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party and MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.
“I am calling on both the government and the official opposition to join me in supporting a moratorium on horizontal fracking in British Columbia,” Weaver said in a statement released Tuesday. “Other jurisdictions, like Quebec, New York, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, have already suspended the practice and B.C. should follow suit.”
The study found a direct link between fracking and earthquakes in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin over the last 25 years. The group studied more than 12,000 wells and seismic events larger than magnitude 3.0.
The new research, published in Seismological Research Letters on Tuesday by a group of Canadian researchers, concludes that 90 per cent of seismic activity in the region was the direct result of fracking operations.
Due to the massive amount of fracking sites in operation, this amounts to under one per cent of wells triggering earthquakes.
While researchers acknowledge the figure is small, “it is important for us to realize that indeed hydraulic fracturing can induce earthquakes,” Honn Kao, a research scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada and one of 13 co-authors of a study, told the CBC.
“But the evidence so far indicates there are other factors that may be important in this process as well, so that we cannot blame all the hydraulic fracturing operations for inducing big earthquakes,” he said.
Previous research has determined a relationship between earthquakes and wastewater injection sites used to dispose of the sometimes millions of gallons of contaminated water produced at frack sites. But this is the first study to identify a definitive link between the process of fracking itself and induced seismic activity.
An earthquake measuring between 4.2 and 4.8 on the Richter scale rocked the town of Fox Creek, Alberta, in January of this year, raising concerns that increased seismic activity in the region is due to local fracking operations. The quake resulted in the closure of a fracking operation.
“It's critical that we get to a complete scientific understanding of the issue,” David Eaton, a University of Calgary geophysicist and a co-author of the study, told the CBC.
Fracking, a high-pressure drilling process, poses a significant threat to underground sources of drinking water, which are inadequately mapped in Canada.
In a high-profile case currently before the Supreme Court of Canada, Alberta landowner Jessia Ernst is arguing fracking contaminated her water supply eight years ago and that poor regulation surrounding the process left her without adequate protection.
According to Weaver, these kinds of situations should not be occurring.
“I am calling for a moratorium on horizontal fracturing in B.C. until we establish scientific certainty on the risks it poses,” he said.
“Earthquakes, groundwater contamination, fresh water use, sour gas leaks, environmental degradation and terrain modification, are all concerning side effects of fracking and they warrant comprehensive and cumulative scientific review.”
There are significant fracking operations in northeastern B.C. and a recent study by the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission found that between August 2013 and October 2014 fracking operations triggered 231 earthquakes.
The report noted 38 earthquakes were caused by wastewater injection and 193 seismic events were the result of fracking operations in the area.
The B.C. government, which is intent on building an liquefied natural gas (LNG) export industry in B.C., has thrown its support behind the province’s growing gas industry.
There are hundreds of new wells drilled every year in B.C., Weaver cautioned.
“Now we have the scientific evidence showing a clear link between fracking and earthquakes, but we really have no idea what the risks of this increased seismic activity amount to. We are flying blind,” Weaver said.
“The BC Green Party has consistently called for a moratorium on fracking in our province,” he said. “To continue to allow horizontal fracking in B.C. is irresponsible in light of mounting evidence.”
Image: Province of B.C. via Flickr